Give Me Grace (Give Me #3) by Kate McCarthy

He’d had mine from the moment we met in our first year at Charles Sturt University. I took him down in an illegal high tackle in rugby league tryouts. Shoving me off, he growled a curse and threw a punch that would’ve rendered a lesser man unconscious. Not me though. I came from a background where crippling blows were the accepted form of communication. I could’ve taken it ten times over if I had to, but Travis wasn’t looking to go another ten rounds. He’d simply held out a hand and hauled me to my feet. A slap on the back, a beer at the university’s pub, and we were friends.

That was a defining moment in my life—meeting Travis Valentine—because just under a year later I almost died. God knows I should have. If Travis hadn’t had my back, I would have. I’d wanted to.

Why? Because I’d made a promise I failed to deliver on. That didn’t seem so bad, I know. Promises were made to be broken, right? Wrong. Not when breaking them meant you failed so fucking bad, you lost your entire world in the blink of an eye.

No words could ever encompass the magnitude of what that felt like. It was like you were somehow still breathing even though your heart wasn’t beating anymore. It was like becoming a whole other person you didn’t know. It was like losing yourself, and when you lost yourself, there was no coming back.

I was at the Coogee Bay Hotel on summer break from uni when it hit me that I didn’t have to try and come back. I didn’t have to pretend I was okay. I didn’t have to live through losing everything. I didn’t have to fight anymore.

The sudden realisation was a relief, and surrounded by friends at our table, I simply stood up and walked out. The bottle of booze in my hand slipped to the ground outside. Beer sprayed everywhere, glass shattering and skidding across the ground. Tripping over, I fell on the broken shards, but I was so fucked-up I didn’t even notice.

“Come on, Casey. Up you get.”

A hand gripped my bicep and I looked up. There was Travis, once again hauling me to my feet. I wanted to tell him to let go, just this once, because I didn’t want to get up again, and I was okay with that.

“Travis,” I slurred. Shrugging off his arm, I staggered to my feet and grabbed the beer out of his hand. I saluted him with it. “To the best friend a useless fuck like me could ever ask for.”

Two girls walked by on their way inside. Bracing my arm against the wall, my eyes fell on girl number two. Long, wild red hair, miles of leg, and a full, curvy body showcased in a tight, black dress.

Looking me over, she smiled at me as they passed, but it slipped off her face when my hand gave out and I lurched sideways into the wall. They disappeared inside.

“Christ, Casey,” Travis muttered, grabbing for his beer. “Haven’t you had enough?”

I looked him in the eye. “You’re right, Travis.” Just like you always are. “I have had enough.”

Panic flooded his eyes at my definitive tone. I hated letting him down. Travis had thought time out from classes, hanging by the beach and surfing, would be some kind of bullshit rejuvenation. It was nice getting away from everything. It was nice having a best friend as well, but not if it meant failing him too.

“No, Casey.” Travis shook his head. “No.”

“I tried. I fucking tried, but I can’t do this, Trav. There’s nothing there, and I’m tired of pretending there is.”

“Fuck.” Travis reached out and when I shoved him back, he stumbled. “You can’t—”

Spying the beach across the road, waves crashing heavily in the dark night, I cut him off. “I’m sorry.”

Travis made another grab for me, but even as fucked up as I was, I was too quick. I jogged across the road, my eyes focused on the water and nothing else. The ocean was rough and wild. If alcohol couldn’t smother my demons, I’d drown them in the pounding waves.

“Casey!” Travis yelled from behind me but I didn’t stop.

Gasping for air, I reached the shoreline and tripped in the wet sand. I went down hard and cold water gushed over my body, numbing me.

Fuck yeah. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

I clawed my way in further.

Arms grabbed my waist and yanked me backwards. Travis staggered and we both went down. I tried struggling from his hold, but his grip was anchor tight.

“Why can’t you leave me the fuck alone?” I shouted.

“Because if you go in there, you’ll drown!” he yelled back.

“That’s the point.” I closed my eyes and swallowed. “Can’t live like this anymore, Trav. I just can’t.”